Strong tea

Strong tea, photo © Copyright by Yasser Masood

There are days when I wake up thinking I want strong tea. It’s just a state of mind that lasts a few minutes and then I’m happy to have my usual tea.

I don’t run on tea like most Pakistanis claim they do, or actually do. I have tea once when I wake up and once early afternoon. Other times I just have lots and lots of water.

Tea is embedded in our DNA, it’s a natural taste we love and enjoy. We Pakistanis even make it more ways than most other cultures, so when it comes to tea, it’s personal and it’s serious. You don’t mess with someone’s tea-love.

The usual times people have tea in our culture have been once early morning and once early evening. That’s where I live and breathe when I crave for tea, it’s at those times. Else, it’s just not tea time and I move on.

Then there are self-presuming tea aficionados amongst us who think tea is an any-time drink and indulge in tea-love that’s simply silly and dangerous. If you fall in this group, you’re either dehydrated, sleep less or you’re addicted to sugar.

Tea for me is entirely optional and I have seldom craved it in Ramadan (the superb month of fasting and reconnecting to our maker). I do remember having a harder than usual time getting started early morning in Ramadan if I had taken a nap after Fajr and before work-time. That’s a slower than usual start because of a heavy sehri (suhoor) meal followed by a short nap. Tea at sehri wouldn’t have made it any better.

Strong tea is not “karak” tea which is widely available in the UAE. We’ve not named strong tea a name either. In our culture if tea is good we say “chai achee hai” which means tea’s good. This means tea is well brewed, the mix of milk is perfect and so is the amount of sugar in it. This also mandates that tea was brewed over a stove. There are various recipes and you can achieve great results when using teabags with an electric kettle or microwave too. Like anything, there could be a thousand ways to prepare tea.

The purist can disagree and I accept their argument as a defeat because at the bottom of my heart great tea is made over a stove and served in the traditional way using a tea pot and a tea cosy. Throw in some lovely tea cups and saucers and I’m going to want to have tea this way, every day, rather than any other godforsaken way.

Reality is, this isn’t my childhood and this isn’t when we used to visit my grandmother’s home Mubarak Manzil in Karachi where traditionally prepared tea would be served with all bells and whistles. I remember the feeling of seeing a tea cosy for the first time at one of my aunts’ homes – ah – that feeling of true amazement of wanting to uncover the tea pot, only to be told that I was too young to do it and that you would remove the tea cosy only when someone wanted some more tea.

Today, life’s an addiction and my greatest addiction is not tea, it’s computing. I need my day-start tea in less than five minutes, which until recently I was able to prepare in less than 120 seconds (all steps from start to finish) using a mug, a tea bag, a tea spoon of honey (rarely sugar), milk and boiling water from our electric kettle (or on some days using a microwave oven). Yes, it’s tea and it works well. It’s Tea-cup One.

Tea-cup Two is doubly optional and having this depends on two factors. How badly have I tired as I progress during my work day and whether I feel like having a cup of tea early evening. I take a little more time preparing this cup and usually do so before or after praying Asar. I have good quality time this time of the day, so tea at Asar is for pleasure. If I’m not in the mood or the early hours of the evening are waning, my system skips the need for tea. It’s that simple.

‘Tea is good for you’, ‘you must have tea’, ‘a good tea is a must’ are all cultural norms that you may or may not subscribe to – when we have nothing to do as a people, we choose to gather up and have tea, which truly is an amazing thing, at the right times.

So why do I crave for strong tea? It’s just a bug. It’s my wish to double the dose of tea in my tea cup, which for whence I remember I haven’t ever. I have at times, when making tea over a stove used little more tea powder than most would, just to turn the bitterness up a notch or two staying well within the boundaries of the recipe set by our family and friends (yes, friends too advise you on tea in our culture).

Pakistanis know tea by many names like ‘chai’ (brewed tea with sugar and milk added), ‘pakee wi chai’ (tea brewed in milk with sugar, or brewed tea with unusual quantities of sugar and milk), ‘tea-bag wali chai’ (the infamous tea-bag tea when you add boiling water, milk and sugar), ‘saadi chai’ (brewed tea without milk or sugar) and at many times we add ethnicity to the names of teas from various cultures in Pakistan, so its a vast subject and of little interest to me.

Strong tea is simply great chai. It may boost your spirits, lift your haziness, fulfill your day, yet it does very less to solve (if not elevate) our problems (as a nation).

Have it, enjoy it, gather around it and get some great work done.